The Controversy Behind Native American Mascots



The Washington Redskins have been one of the teams facing scrutiny for their choice of mascot. (PHOTO BY RODGER MALLISON/FORT WORTH STAR TELEGRAM via TNS)


From the Chicago Blackhawks of the NHL and the Cleveland Indians of the MLB to the Washington Redskins of the NFL, Native American team names can be seen in almost every major professional sports association in the United States. Even though this has been an issue since the 1960s, it has recently developed into front page news on publications from ESPN to CNN to The Atlantic. These teams are refusing to move away from their use of Native American-themed mascots.

The controversy surrounding Native American mascots first came into the public eye during the 1960s Native American Civil Rights movement, where the use of these mascots was criticized for being offensive. Since then, there have been consistent protests against these teams with many specifically targeting the use of the term “Redskins,” used by Washington, and the “Chief Wahoo” logo from the Cleveland Indians. According to NBC News many Native American groups, such as the Apache and Cherokee, have labeled these and other similar mascots as derogatory and demeaning slang terms.

This issue gained more recent attention when the Oneida Indian Nation launched messages against the Redskins’ name in 2013. Since then, much of the scandal has focused on the Washington  Redskins with many calling for a name change.Team owner Dan Snyder, however,  has refused to budge. Many high profile individuals have commented on the situation including several members of Congress, athletes and even President Barack Obama, who, according to the Washington Post, said, “If I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team — even if it had a storied history — that was offending a sizeable group of people, I’d think about changing it.”

While professional mascots, like the Redskins and Blackhawks, are the focus of media attention, they are not the only examples of Native American-themed mascots. According to a nationwide study conducted by FiveThirtyEight, there were over 2,100 uses of Native American mascots by teams in the United States ranging from the professional level to high schools and colleges. While Fordham is not one of these schools, it is still important to see how this issues affects our community, and how our classmates view this issue.

Many sides of the debate came to the forefront. Some of these opinions included those that noted changing the mascots isn’t enough. Nicholas DeVelo, Fordham College Lincoln Center (FCLC) ‘18, stated that “using Native American names is racist, changing the team names will not change the underlying racist ideas in America.” He went on to further state that “nothing would change because the business end of the issue isn’t financially smart for owners.”

Tate Miller, FCLC ‘18, disagreed, “I don’t mind the use of names like the Braves or Indians, but I do believe the only truly offensive mascot is the Redskins.” Finally, Katherine Tracy, Gabelli School of Business at Lincoln Center (GSBLC) ‘18, attempted to put the issue into perspective when she said that she is not “a strong advocate either way,” but believes “since there is such a wide variety of mascots, there’s no need to keep a name with such a tenuous history.”

Because this controversy has wide reaching impacts on all levels of sporting in the United States, it is not surprising that it is such a contentious issue. How do you stand on the matter?